As Melbourne shakes off being the most locked-down city in the world, the latest national research by Bastion shows a story of a city full of optimism, fear and anxiety, as it ends what it hopes will be its last lockdown.
Victorian’s life satisfaction and optimism both increased significantly over the last month. At the same time Victorian’s have a severe case of reopening anxiety as psychological distress levels hit an all-time high, and concern of exposure to COVID being the highest across the country. And it is also Victorians, who have complied with the greatest restrictions on individual’s rights throughout the pandemic, who are now the most defensive of upholding their rights to choose to be vaccinated or not, and not to penalise those who don’t.
The level of concern in the community remains high although it is declining at a national level. In Victoria the story is different with concern at an all-time high around the economy with 8 in 10 Victorians concerned about the economy, while health and personal concerns remain relatively stable. With lockdowns now lifting, it is a waiting game to see how quickly business bounces back. Will we see Victorians bounce back like they did last year, or will we see more consequences of the most extended lockdown in the world?
Says Dianne Gardiner, executive director of Bastion Insights and author of the survey over the last 18 months: “Victorians have endured so much more than any other state through the pandemic, it’s not surprising to see Victorians both embrace and, at the same time struggle, as they enter the next phase of what is the pandemic roller-coaster of uncertainty.”
The research has shown optimism and life satisfaction have seen significant rebounds as states announce lifting of lockdown restrictions. Australians’ life satisfaction increased 5pp to 66% since the last wave of Bastion’s research, with VIC showing the greatest rebound up 11pp to 59%. We are seeing the hope of lockdown lifting in VIC coming through in Victorian’s life satisfaction and similar patterns in optimism for the future with 63% of Victorians feeling optimistic, up a massive 19pp from September.
Says Peter Harris, Co-CEO at Bastion Insights: “Time and time again with this study we have seen how resilient Australians are, and can be. This is a unique time in business, and life, where there is a mix of optimism and anxiety for Australians and brands will have to navigate this and the enormous changes in customer buyer behaviour that we have seen happen. The brands that will win are those confident with their understanding of customers and they are clear on what exception brand experiences can deliver post lockdown.”
Adds Gardiner: “It is great to see Victorian’s optimism and life satisfaction bounce back as lockdown lifts, but at the same time, it is also not surprising that many Victorians may struggle with the reopening, as the research shows Victorian’s anxiety has hit an all-time high. Almost 1 in 2 Victorians have felt anxious in the last week, well above the 1 in 3 peak we have seen at times through the pandemic. Reopening anxiety is a real thing and having spent 262 days lockdown in total, it is going to take more for Victorians to adjust, and it’s important for people to know that it is normal to have these conflicting thoughts about reopening. Whether this is concern about exposure to DELTA, or social anxiety of coming out of their bubble, Victorians are feeling more vulnerable than ever before. Learning to live with COVID is likely to be hardest for those who have been living in lockdown the longest.”
The research shows Australian’s concern over exposure differs across settings but also states. It is at larger events (67%) and while travelling on planes and at airports (66%), Australians feel most exposed. But it is also on public transport (60%) and at shopping centres (56%), restaurants, cafes, pubs and similar venues (51%) that we feel most at risk. Workplaces (33%) and personal gatherings with friends and family (30%) are perceived as lower risks. But as lockdown lifts, Victorians are more concerned than other states about now being exposed to COVID. While there are many who are eagerly awaiting ‘getting out’, there is also a higher level of concern that may translate to hesitancy in reengaging with social activities and events.
The research also shows that while the majority of Australians (72%) agree it is everyone’s responsibility to be vaccinated to help protect others, when it comes to our rights to choose to be vaccinated or not, there is more division with 54% of Australians agreeing, 27% disagreeing. And it is Victorians who are more likely to agree it is an individual’s right to choose (63%) and more than 1 in 2 agreeing individuals who choose not to be vaccinated should not be penalised.
Says Gardiner: “Our research shows, Victorians, who have experienced the greatest restrictions on individual’s rights throughout the pandemic, are now the most defensive of upholding their rights. Over the last month, Victorians have witnessed riots over construction workers being shut down for two weeks and ordered to be double vaccinated before returning to work, and following this the mandatory vaccination health directions for all authorised workers in Victoria was released and came into effect by 15 October. Despite the risks related to the unvaccinated, more than 1 in 2 Victorians agree individuals who choose not to be vaccinated should not be penalised, simply shows Victorians are over being ordered what to do.”